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The 10 Best Quotes from the James Beard 'Women in Culinary Leadership' Panel

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From left: Rohini Dey, Kristen Kish, Gail Simmons, Michael White, Susan Ungaro, Dana Cowin.
From left: Rohini Dey, Kristen Kish, Gail Simmons, Michael White, Susan Ungaro, Dana Cowin.
Photo: Hillary Dixler/
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Last night in New York City, the James Beard Foundation hosted a discussion on "Women in Culinary Leadership" and "how the culinary and restaurant world can better support and encourage the advancement of women within the industry." Sitting on the panel were Gail Simmons (Food & Wine, Top Chef), Kristen Kish (formerly Menton, Boston), Rohini Dey (Vermillion, Chicago, at Vermillion, NYC), Susan Ungaro (James Beard Foundation), and Michael White (Altamarea Group, NYC). Moderated by Food & Wine editor in chief Dana Cowin, the conversation ranged in topics from media bias, to the "pink ghetto" of the cold station and pastry, to pregnancy, and much more. Below are the 10 best quotes. Go have a look:

1) Kristen Kish, on gender: "I didn't ever know that I was a 'woman chef' until the whole Time article ... I look at women and men in this industry as each individual person... I don't see the gender issues as much as some other people [on the panel], it isn't as apparent to me."

2) Rohini Dey, on the importance of having female head chefs: "Does the consumer fundamentally care [if the chef is a woman]? I don't think so. The consumer cares about is it a terrific restaurant and is it a terrific value proposition. The gender is irrelevant. I think that's the way it should stay, it should be a meritocracy. But do I care that the sky is open to half of us?"

3) Gail Simmons, on pregnancy in the restaurant business: "There's a very physical element to the work that chefs do in kitchens ... The very first time I ate at Number 9 Park was about 10 years ago, and my now-husband and I went for dinner and were so excited to go to Boston and eat there. And I remember looking into the kitchen at the end of my meal and seeing Barbara [Lynch] on the line, eight months pregnant, and killing it ... But not everyone can do that."

4) Michael White on how some of his female chefs balance family life: "We have cooks, a few women, with children. And they're line cooks in the morning, they finish up in the afternoon."

5) Dana Cowin, on other roads to success in the food industry, like "making the world's best caramel sauce," "being on TV," or small business ownership: "Running your own business you can be more successful, more satisfied, have more control, and make more money ... Sometimes I think the obsession with the 'woman chef' is a little misguided."

[Photo: From the July issue of Food & Wine]

6) Dana Cowin, on why the July issue chose an image of Dana with four male chefs to celebrate her 20 year anniversary: "The publishing side created an ad ... I had nothing to do with the image. I imagine that there probably wasn't an option of a picture of me with four women chefs because that picture wasn't taken, we probably didn't have a gathering of that kind in Aspen. So I can't tell you exactly what's going through their head, except that the people who are in the ad are people who have been featured in the magazine a lot, and they're men. And it was celebratory ... We just need to get more women in Aspen apparently."

7) Rohini Dey, on media gender bias: "I do think there is infinitely more coverage of men, but I think it's for two specific reasons. One is input-out ratio: There are fundamentally more men in the industry ... The second is, I would say, to get that media coverage you need investment and PR backing. You don't just get it by being genius and being there, an undiscovered gem."

8) Kristen Kish, on getting media attention: "If you want to be on that cover, do something worth photographing, do something worth writing about, and then have the PR to back it up. I know for a fact that I wouldn't be where I am without being on television. No one would write about me, no one would give a shit about who I was."

9) Michael White, on the domino effect in his kitchens: "When there are two or three key positions held by women, it encourages young people in the restaurant to strive for those positions. Young women, out of the Culinary Institute or exchange students ... it really spurs them on to be in the same position. That's fundamental."

10) Rohini Dey, on the what's missing from the conversation: "The conversation has to go much beyond the woman chef. To really influence, you have to get to the level of women restaurateur, and restaurant groups like Michael White ... Where are the Drew Nieporent's, where are the Danny Meyer's, where are the Daniel Boulud's, where are the Jean Georges's, where are all of those? The single name we can come up with is Barbara Lynch."

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